An Unpopular Opinion on Diversity and Representation

As the title stated, this is likely going to upset a few people as they read, but please hear me out. There’s nothing wrong with pandering to an audience, most everyone gets some enjoyment from it, even at the most basic level, but when an audience gets pandering, it feels hollow and asinine. Do you agree so far?

As a woman, I want strong female characters, not stereotypes. I don’t love a hardened war veteran that "don’t need no man"; I love the woman that has seen some major shit but still smiles as she pats her kid on the head and tells them everything’s going to be alright. I love the woman that get hit by something, something that knocks her flat-- be it emotional trauma or physical circumstances-- then gets right back up again. I love conflict that feels real and relatable and deep. I love a strong female character because she is not defined by being a female character but decides she’s going to grab life by the throat and squeeze every ounce of enjoyment she can out of it.

I love male characters that behave like human beings, not action hero stereotypes, not powerless “radical feminist” stereotypes. I love male characters with ambitions, with drive and passion. I love male characters who are more than just the bland protagonist shell. I don’t mind the power trip fantasies if they are balanced by moments that knock the character down, that forced him to confront himself or an opponent he cannot defeat alone. I love male characters that can grow and change in the line of their own story without having to focus on realism.

Superman isn’t realistic. Wonder Woman isn’t realistic. Comic books aren’t; action movies aren’t; video games aren’t; romantic comedies aren't either.

Media is an escape for us, a place where we don’t have to face brutal realities if we don’t want to, but it’s also an important tool for us to talk about our world and better understand it. Art is both the hammer by which we shape society and the mirror through which we observe it. It’s something very close to my heart, something I’m passionate about, something we all need to talk about because there are some troubling occurrences on the horizon.

Representation.

Specifically, representation over presentation.

Nowhere do I think this is more obvious than the current state of Marvel Comics. Just look at the sales figures for these comics, they are so much lower than just a few years ago. Why? Read the comics, go ahead and pick on up and try to read it. Some of the artwork is still very visually appealing, especially in main series runs, but the dialogue comes off preachy and artificial. The new Iron Man comics featuring a young black girl, and that’s fine, claim that Riri is a genius yet we never get to see that. A comic is a visual medium, perfect for showing the reader large quantities of information over telling the reader something, yet Marvel Comics just isn’t doing that. This is my issue.

Instead of giving the audience a character, they are giving us a hollow archetype.

Now, look at the more recent Marvel films coming out, like Thor: Ragnarok. Valkyrie in the comics is a white woman with blond hair and blue eyes, she is played in this version by a woman of color. We never get told what she's all about save a quick line or two explaining to a non-informed audience what the Valkyrie was in mythology. Instead, we get treated to a character, over the course of the film we get to know more about her by what she says and does, we are shown. This is representation done well, in my opinion.

I’d honestly rather have a few “diverse” characters that are done well than a heap of “diverse” characters that have no personality, that aren’t people at all, that don’t express desire, don’t struggle or strive. Characters that don’t grow or change in any substantial way are boring. The current state of comics don’t allow for characters to be beaten down then rise up, the problems they face seem so trivial and when they aren’t the writing isn’t handled well enough to make the reader believe in the stakes. It’s pandering to a demographic that doesn’t read comics while eliminating any original readership that Marvel might have had.

Representation in media is very Important but not the end all be all of storytelling. One flat damsel in distress character does not make for a diverse cast but making every character a damsel who never gets to experience distress is frankly patronizing. Give me a complex and rounded lead whose strife and struggles resonate with the audience and make them real even through the escapism, and I guarantee you will have a reader for many years to come.